The Pruis made some economic sense – and maybe still does.
It was and still is the only hybrid designed as a hybrid from the wheels up; designed for fuel economy uber alles. For this reason, it’s not speedy (zero to 60 in 11 seconds) and looks ungainly. But because everything from the lug nuts up was designed to reduce fuel consumption, it averages 50-plus MPG.
Nothing else comes close.
It also doesn’t cost too much: $24,685 to start. You might actually make up the difference (vs. an otherwise similar non-hybrid) in savings down the road.
But what about hybrid versions of ordinarily non-hybrid cars that attempt to give you things the Prius doesn’t – like acceleration and also not-Prius looks – but whose mileage isn’t nearly as cut-above?
And whose price tag is?
We’re pondering the hybrid version of the Ford Fusion mid-sized sedan – which starts at $25,675 for the base S trim and from there ascends all the way to $37,020 for a Platinum trim.
Like the hybrid versions of the Hyundai Sonata ($26,000 to start) and Kia Optima ($25,995 to start), Toyota Camry ($26,790 to start) and Honda Accord hybrid ($29,605 to start) it is not a dedicated hybrid.
It is a converted hybrid.
Ford (and the others mentioned) took an existing car that had been designed as a conventional car and added a hybrid drivetrain. This was done when gas was $4 a gallon and people were not unreasonably freaking about gas prices going up even higher.
The hybrid drivetrain stuffed into these things gave about a 10 MPG uptick vs. the non-hybrid versions.
Why not as much mileage as the Prius?
Because unlike the Prius, these cars were not designed from the lugs up with fuel economy uber alles in mind. The converted hybrids are heavier and meeting expectations about acceleration and handling compromised what could be done to maximize efficiency.
Still, it made economic sense – from the point of view of the buyer – when that 10 MPG difference meant saving $50 or even $100 a month on fuel.
But with gas at $2.20-ish, the economics are no longer favorable.
Especially when you add into the mix the fact that you can now buy non-hybrid sedans like the Hyundai Elantra “Eco” I test drove last week (here) and the very similar Sonata “Eco” – both equipped with very small, very turbocharged IC engines (1.4 and 1.6 liters, respectively) that can just about match the real-world average mileage of a car like the hybrid Fusion – or its nominal rivals like the Toyota Camry hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima hybrids.
For several thousand dollars less.
All Fusions get exterior styling tweaks and – inside – a new rotary knob gear selector, plus the latest generation of Ford’s LCD infotainment interface, Sync3 – which is a yuge (hey, it’s The Trump Era) improvement over the MyFordTouch system that pretty much everyone hated.
Much speedier than a Prius – and much sexier looking, too.
Almost 3 inches more room in back than Sonata/Optima hybrids.
Not as economically ridiculous as the Accord Hybrid ($29,605 to start).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Buy something like an Elantra Eco that averages about 3 MPG less… and costs about $3k less to buy ($23,125).
Camry hybrid is much quicker and returns about the same mileage – for about the same coin.
Very small (12 cubic foot) trunk. Sonata/Optima hybrid both have larger (13.3 cubic feet).
Like other hybrids, the Fusion’s got two ways to get going – a 2.0 liter gas engine and an electric motor/battery pack.
Total output is 188 hp, a bit less than the Camry hybrid (200 hp) and the Sonata/Optima hybrids (which, though the same car with the same drivetrain, have slightly different power ratings: 193 hp for the Hyundai and 192 for the Kia).
The just-redesigned Honda Accord hybrid – back on the market after a year off the market – is strongest of the bunch (212 hp) and also the most fuel efficient of the bunch (49 city, 47 highway) but at $29,605 to start it is also – by far – the most expensive of the bunch and any pretense about economy is just that. Buy this car because it’s quick or because you like the technology or just Hondas. But while it might save gas, it will not save you money – unless almost all of your driving is low-speed “city” driving, the type of driving that maximizes the economy potential of the hybrid drivetrain. Because it maximizes the amount of time the gas engine isn’t running.
Then, you might average 40-plus MPG. Maybe even 45 MPG.
But wait, do some math.
I mentioned the Hyundai Elantra I test drove last week. It has a 1.4 liter engine and a seven-speed automated manual transmission and carries and EPA rating of 32 city, 40 highway. I averaged 34.4 MPG driving it like Jim Rockford did his Firebird. It would have done better (mileage-wise) had I not been hammering it.
I did not hammer the Fusion because that’s contraindicated. I am supposed to report how these things do in the sort of driving they’ll likely be subjected to. But I do have to deal with grades – uphills, some quite steep. And I do a lot of “highway” driving (like most people) and that, today, means running 70-75 just to keep up.
The hybrid Fusion – which carries an EPA rating of 43 city, 41 highway – averaged just over 35 MPG.
No doubt, it could do better. . . if your driving is mostly city driving. But even if you achieve the EPA’s best-case numbers – about 42 MPG average – that is only about 8-10 MPG better than you’d get (or could get) in one of the latest non-hybrid but “Eco” engined cars (Ford sells these, too) and they cost a lot less to buy.
On the upside, the Fusion hybrid isn’t slow.
Let’s get to that now.
A real virtue of the Fusion and its friends is that they do more than give you a few more MPGs for a lot more dollars.
They are all pretty quick. Compared with a Prius, they are muscle hybrids.
Floor the “accelerator” in the Prius and sad sounds ensue. It is under-engined on purpose (remember, fuel economy uber alles) with the downside of that being there is just barely enough power to keep up with traffic at the pace of traffic. The Prius makes a great in-city commuter car or taxi, even. But on the highway, it feels like a Moped enclosed.
While it’s not the quickest of the bunch – that honor goes first to the Accord hybrid and second to the Camry hybrid (both can get to 60 in just over 7 seconds) its 8 second to 60 run is about three seconds quicker than the Prius can deliver.
In real world driving, a second’s difference between two cars is negligible. It comes down to which driver has the faster reaction times – if you’re talking a straight-up stoplight-to-stoplight race.
But three seconds’ difference, that you notice – that you can feel. And you don’t have to be drag racing to notice it, either.
It translates another way, too – into viable passing/merging power. Great gas mileage is nice, but you’ll beg for something that sucks more gas but has the beans to accelerate up to speed with highway traffic, that lets you pull onto a main road without constantly risking being rear-ended (or receiving a beating at the next stop light).
Something else, too: The Fusion is quiet. Because (again) it was not designed for fuel efficiency uber alles. They didn’t build it out of thin metal and plastic and skimp on the sound deadening, or give it a lightweight carpet and extra thin glass to shave a few pounds in order to eke out the maximum MPGs.
It weighs 3,615 lbs. – vs. 3,010 for the Prius.
Which may not be ideal as far as saving fuel but is exactly what you want if you want to not feel like you are driving an enclosed Moped. At un-Prius speed especially, the Fusion is a symphony of silence. Even though it – like the Prius and pretty much all hybrids – has a continuously variable (CVT) automatic – which in under-engined hybrids adds to the sad sound orchestra when acceleration is desired – you hear very little of anything, even at 80-something or even faster. Which – politically correct Speed Limit talk aside – is not uncommon on the highway today.
The point here is that the hybrid Fusion doesn’t drive much like one – and this is a praiseworthy quality. Ford does fit it with the usual hybrid-specific instrument cluster (including a “power flow” display you can toggle up on the secondary Sync3 LCD display) but otherwise, it drives – and handles – like any other Fusion.
It does not come with mileage-master (and handling sucky) 15 or even 16 inch steel wheels and hard rubber tires. It comes standard with 17 inch wheels – and you can specify 18s, with sport tires.
AT THE CURB
Back in the ’90s, Ford swallowed up a bunch of smaller car companies – high end car companies – and subsumed them under something called the Premier Auto Group. One of these acquisitions (since divested) was Aston Martin.
Notice anything Aston Martin-ish about the Fusion?
There’s a Vantage in the woodpile … so to speak. Especially from the front end. The chin, the eyes . . .
No faulting this car’s looks.
The interior is a bit bland, though – notwithstanding the 2017 updates, which chiefly include the rotary knob controller for selecting transmission ranges. The gauge cluster is a kind of generic plug-in looking thing that is almost identical to the cluster used in several other Fords, except for some hybrid-specific readouts – including a kind of hilarious when you stop to think about it “green leaves” display on the right hand side. The “leaves” grow the less you manage to use the gas-burning engine as when stopped at a light or coasting downhill.
But, think about it. What do plants crave? It isn’t oxygen. That’s what they exhale. What they breathe is… carbon dioxide. And the more gas you burn, the C02 you make – and the more plants grow.
Which only goes to show you much the whole “green” shibboleth relies on general enstupidation.
The seat heaters are, however, excellent.
Trunk space, on the other hand, is just 12 cubic feet – which for a mid-sized family sedan is small and also relative to mid-sized hybrid family sedans like the Camry (13.1 cubes) and the Hyundai/Kia twins (13.3 cubes).
The Accord tops them all, with a 13.7 cubic foot trunk.
Here, incidentally, is an area where the Prius outclasses them all. Because it is a tall-roofed hatchback rather than a sleek-roofed sedan with a trunk. In the Prius, the entire interior volume (except the driver’s seat) is potentially available to carry Stuff. Pop the hatch, lower/fold the second row seats and you can cram a lot inside a Prius. It has about twice the available space and the space available is more versatile.
Just be patient about getting to where you’re headed.
You may ask: If hybrid conversions like the Fusion and the others don’t make economic sense, why are they being built? Why are they building more of them all the time?
Part of it has to do with enstupidation – salted with smugness. There are people – buyers – who can’t do arithmetic and also people who can but esteem being “green” (and yet, are not willing to drive a Prius). For such people, a good-looking, decent-performing car like the Fusion or its rivals makes a different kind of sense. And I can’t fault Ford or Toyota or Kia or Hyundai or any other car company for catering to that anymore than I fault Porsche for catering to people who like to dangle the keys to their Porsche as a totem of their specialness.
Also, there is CAFE to take into account. While it is pravda (truth) that, in real-world, mixed use driving, these hybrids do not deliver spectacular mileage, the gains they do deliver – especially on the government’s tests – matter hugely to the car companies insofar as how much and how hard they get hit with “gas guzzler” fines based on the corporate (or overall) fleet economy of all their offerings, combined and averaged out. If Ford sells a bunch of hybrid Fusions (and other hybrids) it increases their overall CAFE average – and reduces the “gas guzzler” hit applied by Uncle.
In a twisted way, this also benefits the not-enstupidated, who (for the moment) can still buy cars like the V8 Mustang GT, which Ford can still build because of the MPG offset provided by cars like the hybrid Fusion.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Unless gas prices do go back up to $4 or more per gallon – which, to be fair, they might – you will never recoup your “investment” in a hybrid like the Fusion or its rivals.
But, you will still get some things a truly committed hybrid like the Prius can’t give you – such as good looks and good acceleration.
Plus the intangible goodness of being “green.”
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